Industrial Cathedral

Industrial Cathedral
"Industrial Cathedral" charcoal drawing on paper 131 x 131 cm Jane Bennett. This drawing was a finalist in the 1998 Dobell Prize for Drawing (Art Gallery of N.S.W.) ; Finalist in 1998 Blake Prize for Religious Art ; Winner of 1998 Hunter's Hill Open Art Prize

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Patina- Beautiful decay

plein air painting of the now demolished Hammerhead Crane on Garden Island by industrial heritage artist Jane Bennett
 GIHC16 'Detail Hammerhead Crane'
 2014 oil on canvas 28 x 36cm
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In my major solo exhibition "Under the Hammer" at the Frances Keevil Gallery there are several paintings of the Hammerhead Crane seen from various vantage points in the middle distance.
However, I also painted several canvases of close-up details that at first sight look like abstract works. I can assure you, they are completely realistic. They just focus on a tiny portion of the subject, unlike most of my work. These paintings have been wildly popular, but I wonder whether it is just because onlookers have become less capable of coping with the complexity of an entire scene, and are only able to appreciate a fragment.
plein air painting of the now demolished Hammerhead Crane on Garden Island by industrial heritage artist Jane Bennett
GIHC18 'Girder, Hammerhead Crane
2014 oil on canvas 61 x 91cm 

FINALIST : 2015 HORNSBY ART PRIZE
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Now I can't overstate how much I hate the flat picture plane!
And "modern" art has been all about "the surface", flatness and shallowness, in more ways than one.
In my paintings, I want depth, perspective and layers; physically, emotionally and intellectually.
So even in my canvases of close-up details, there are hidden depths and a sense of space extending beyond the picture plane, especially in the drawings and paintings I created while looking up, standing directly underneath the centre of the crane. I feel that the painting with the greatest sense of space and depth is  "Under the Hammerhead Crane" seen below.
However these canvases of details of the Hammerhead Crane have given me the chance to reveal the transmutations, ambiguities and impermanence of form by the beauty of its decaying exterior.
plein air painting of the now demolished Hammerhead Crane on Garden Island by industrial heritage artist Jane Bennett
 GIHC20 'Under the Hammerhead Crane'
2014 oil on canvas 61 x 91cm
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Patina is the visible sign of age on the surface of a material. It panders to our growing desire for the proof of authenticity; a backlash against the homogenized and generic corporate spaces that have taken over so much of our world. Materials are imbued with a history that speaks of ‘natural’ processes accrued over time, such as distressed wood, weather-beaten stone or brick, faded wallpaper, well-worn textiles, rusted ironwork, greening copper - the valued hallmarks of "shabby chic" in upmarket interior decor.
If you lose the texture, you lose your history.
The irony is that patina is seen as adding "authenticity", even though it has been caused by the degeneration and instability of the object.
I think of rust on a metal structure as though it is blood dripping from a wound.
Worship of patina can be seen as yet another symptom of the post-modern obsession with surface at the expense of ‘authentic’ depth.
Patina can be a by-product of the natural process of ageing, but it also functions as a memorial to disaster, natural or otherwise- the architectural equivalent of post-traumatic stress, showing the ‘wound’ inflicted by the trauma of the past as it reverberates down into the present.
Patina straddles the space and time between construction and ruin. The allure of patina lies in its instability; because any attempt to stabilise it affects the essential process.
The art critic Walter Benjamin said that the ‘real’ is only revealed in moments of ruination.
As with ruins, patina represents a fragment that suggests the meaning of the whole. Patina holds together contradictions, reveals historical depth, and yet ironically also remembrance and even healing.

Friday, November 28, 2014

There goes the neighbourhood

Plein air oil painting by Industrial Heritage Artist Jane Bennett of Millers Point Barangaroo and the Harbour Tower from High st
MP9 'Millers Point Barangaroo and the Harbour Tower from High st' oil on canvas 61 x 183cm 2014

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In my new exhibition, "Under the Hammer"  at the Frances Keevil Gallery there is a large and pretty panoramic canvas of High Street.
At first sight, it looks peaceful. Charming enough to put on the cover of a chocolate box.
Does it remind you of the Impressionists perhaps? Pissaro, even early Monet?
To the right is a charming row of Federation houses in dappled shade.
But there are undercurrents. All is not well.
There is a sharp sudden drop to the street below. Behind a camouflaging line of trees there is turmoil. Machinery lurks in the background; inexplicable concrete structures and mounds of debris peek through.
A road carves through the centre to the horizon. It divides the past from the future.
Welcome to Barangaroo.

Plein air oil painting by Industrial Heritage Artist Jane Bennett of Millers Point Barangaroo and the Harbour Tower from High st
MP9 'Millers Point Barangaroo and the Harbour Tower from High st' oil on canvas 61 x 183cm 2014

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Millers Point always had a raffish edge. It was a tough little quarter, the oldest suburb in Australia, and coincidentally its earliest slum. For over 200 years it was the heart of maritime Sydney, as ships loaded wheat, wool and coal at the Fingerwharves that fringed the Harbour from Woolloomooloo to Blackwattle Bay.
Plein air oil painting by Industrial Heritage Artist Jane Bennett of Millers Point Barangaroo and the Harbour Tower from High st
MP9 'Millers Point Barangaroo and the Harbour Tower from High st' oil on canvas 61 x 183cm 2014
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Now it is undergoing a painful and cataclysmic metamorphosis. Every vestige of its colourful past will be swept away. 
 Including the people.
Plein air oil painting by Industrial Heritage Artist Jane Bennett of Millers Point Barangaroo and the Harbour Tower from High st
The artist painting MP9 'Millers Point Barangaroo and the Harbour Tower from High st' oil on canvas 61 x 183cm 2014
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Social cleansing is not a new policy dating from our own era of economic rationalism. It’s been here before.

In January 1900, the bubonic plague first broke out in Sydney, carried by rats from the ships. Millers Point was popularly considered to be a festering slum, inhabited by social undesirables living in ignorance poverty and filth. This was all the excuse the government needed for a massive program of slum clearance that went well beyond simple health precautions. 
Plein air oil painting by Industrial Heritage Artist Jane Bennett of Millers Point Barangaroo and the Harbour Tower from High st
Painting MP9 'Millers Point Barangaroo and the Harbour Tower from High st' oil on canvas 61 x 183cm 2014
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This attitude permitted those with political or commercial interests at heart to promote resumption of property in the name of morality and hygiene. To “purge” the city of perceived social ills, whole city blocks were cordoned off, many houses and even whole streets were demolished.The entire waterfront was put in lockdown until it resembled a quarantined war-zone.
The idea of a “tabula rasa” – a clean sheet, a blank canvas, has always been very seductive to planners. Development through decay, dereliction then destruction is the familiar theme running through Sydney’s history.
Throughout the plague and clearances, yellow ribbons were tied to the doors of houses with infected people inside, or on the doors of houses due for demolition, to mark danger.
Plein air oil painting by Industrial Heritage Artist Jane Bennett of Millers Point Barangaroo and the Harbour Tower from High st
Painting MP9 'Millers Point Barangaroo and the Harbour Tower from High st' oil on canvas 61 x 183cm 2014
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One hundred years later, the area was yet again in danger. It only escaped complete demolition due to the heated campaign by activists, residents and the Green Bans imposed by Jack Mundey and the NSW Builders' Labourers Federation.
As the maritime industry declined and was forced to the periphery of Sydney, the wharves were given a makeover to become upmarket apartments and an entertainment precinct. In 1985 ownership of public housing was removed from the Maritime Services Board and taken over by the Department of Housing. Yet a tiny enclave of the old working-class Sydney community still exists. The phrase “spirit of place” is often overused, but how else can you describe it? People whose families had worked on the wharves, in some cases over 5 generations, are still clinging there precariously, in the houses they had lived in all their lives.
Plein air oil painting by Industrial Heritage Artist Jane Bennett of Millers Point Barangaroo and the Harbour Tower from High st
Sunset, Millers Point. 
 MP9 'Millers Point Barangaroo and the Harbour Tower from High st'
 oil on canvas 61 x 183cm 2014 
with another half finished panorama of the same size of High Street and Barangaroo on my easel.
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There has been extraordinary pressure exerted to gentrify the area. A six-star hotel and high-rollers casino are planned for Barangaroo, only a stone’s throw away. 

The first auctions of 293 public housing properties at Millers Point and The Rocks have begun. Ironically this will even include the Sirius apartment complex, which had been specifically built to house residents displaced during the previous development push. There is no guarantee the proceeds will be quarantined from general revenue to build new public housing in the area or even close to the CBD.
Millers Point residents will have to go within two years, coincidentally when Barangaroo will open.
Plein air oil painting by Industrial Heritage Artist Jane Bennett of Millers Point Barangaroo and the Harbour Tower from High st
Close up detail of gate with yellow ribbon on house in High Street 
MP9 'Millers Point Barangaroo and the Harbour Tower from High st' 
oil on canvas 61 x 183cm 2014
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The yellow ribbons are back, tied to the doors and gates, to warn of an old danger in a new form.
Plus ça change, plus ça meme chose.
Plein air oil painting by Industrial Heritage Artist Jane Bennett of Millers Point Barangaroo and the Harbour Tower from High st
Painting MP9 'Millers Point Barangaroo and the Harbour Tower from High st' oil on canvas 61 x 183cm 2014
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Remember, when you admire the Impressionists, that they painted during the forced clearances of inner city Paris by the despotic town planner Baron Haussmann. If you look carefully, their paintings are full of clues. Those elegant Parisian boulevardes painted by Caillebotte, are wounds inflicted on the city when small laneways were bulldozed, and the residents evicted. Montmarte, too steep for easy access, escaped this homogenization, and was still full of crooked narrow lanes and cheap housing. Many fled there, including some impoverished artists who later became the world famous icons of Impressionist art.
Their paintings don’t look so “chocolate box” now, do they?

Plein air oil painting by Industrial Heritage Artist Jane Bennett of Millers Point Barangaroo and the Harbour Tower from High st
Close up detail showing the partly obscured "Barangaroo" sign 
MP9 'Millers Point Barangaroo and the Harbour Tower from High st' 
oil on canvas 61 x 183cm 2014

To return to my painting, behind the trees is the sign of the Barangaroo development. But the letters are partially obscured; all you can make out is “a n g ...r”.
Hidden anger? With a sugar coating.


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